Now He's Meddling!
The young preacher had just graduated from seminary and assigned to his first church in a small town in Kentucky. Wanting to demonstrate his zeal and conviction right from the start, his first sermon was a scathing attack on "The Sin of Gambling." On Monday morning the chairperson of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee told the new minister that about one-third of the congregation raised race horses. The next Sunday he switched topics and delivered a powerful sermon on "The Sin of Whiskey." The next morning the chairperson advised him that about one-third of the congregation raised barley corn. The third Sunday the minister preached on "The Sin of Tobacco." The chairperson told him that about one-third of the congregation raised tobacco for a living. The fourth Sunday the preacher delivered another powerful message. He took out all the stops. It was a humdinger. His subject: "The Sin of Fishing in the Territorial Waters of a Foreign Nation."
In another church the preacher preached against liquor. The little old ladies nodded their heads vigorously and some said, "Amen." He preached against gambling, and the little old ladies nodded their heads vigorously and some said, "Amen." Then he preached against gossiping. There was dead silence, until one lady was heard whispering to her neighbor, "Now, he's stopped preaching, and gone to meddling!"
The author of Hebrews in the passage read this morning went to meddling. In the first twelve chapters of Hebrews, the author voices general guidelines and Christian attitudes. Then, in chapter 13, he starts meddling, and gets very specific, preaching no doubt about real live issues that troubled the church. Times change very little for the issues with which that preacher meddled are still timely and troublesome issues of our day. The passage concludes with the affirmation, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." One wonders if sin isn't also the same yesterday and today and forever. We haven't progressed very far from first century Christianity.
The three issues with which the author meddles, and which are still issues today, are interpersonal relationships, sex, and money; problems then, problems now. Go into any bookstore, browse through the books, especially those exhibited in order to entice you to buy. Turn on the TV to those boring Talk Shows. What are the subjects? How to get along with people, how to succeed, how to make money, how to make good investments, and how to improve your sex life. Not only are these topics of great concern for us Americans today, they are the source of gigantic problems: getting along with others, sex and money.
The author of Hebrews doesn't just list these problems; he tells us what to do about them. The rest of the Bible, and our Christian heritage, have much to say about these issues. Meddling, we might call it, but to our peril, we had better pay attention. There is still much we can learn from the biblical ethic.
First, interpersonal relationships. Getting along with spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, people in the work place, and international relations, nation with nation. From spats and arguments to riots in the streets and international wars, how to get along with one another is a major problem of modern society. The Bible tells us how to do it; it's so simple we miss it. Hebrews 13:1, "Let mutual love continue." The older versions say "brotherly love." The Greek word is philia, the root word of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Getting along together is a matter of mutual love, putting the needs and well being of others ahead of your own.
Jesus said it even more succinctly, Matthew 7:12, "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you." There it is! What a world this would be, what a church we would have, what a harmonious family you would have, if everything we said to one another, every act we did to and for one another, were done in the spirit of what we would like said and done to us.
The author of Hebrews extends the ethic of mutual love beyond those we know, and urges Christians to extend themselves and go out of their way to love strangers and those in prison. Interpersonal relationships will improve, will abound in joy and satisfaction when your put your own needs on the back burner and go out of your way to help someone else. Your own needs will be met because there are others who are putting your needs ahead of theirs.
The second issue, sex. We've had a sexual revolution in our country, but sex is far from being understood, appreciated, and enjoyed. Talk shows, soap operas, movies, magazines, books, even greeting cards are full of sex. There are how-to guides. There is pornography. There is censorship and constant attempts to censor. There are controversial art exhibits. There are sexually transmitted diseases, including the dreaded AIDS virus. There is paranoia--homophobia--about homosexuality.
The author of Hebrews meddles and preaches about sex, and his answer is a very valid answer today, but few in the public realm have thought of it. It's so simple. Are you ready? Sex belongs in marriage. Hebrews 13:4, "Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers." Sex is a God-given joy within the marriage relationship. By marriage, I do not necessarily mean getting a license from the county clerk. Marriage is a covenant; not a temporary arrangement, but a long-term, committed, holy covenant between two people, heterosexual or homosexual. The AIDS epidemic was not spread through homosexuality, but through promiscuity. AIDS is not a judgment on homosexuality, but on promiscuity.
In contrast to promiscuity, the Bible does not offer abstinence, but monogamy. Monogamy is the biblical framework within which sex becomes a meaningful, significant, joyful act between two people in love who have entered into covenant, heterosexual or homosexual. (As you can tell, I am in disagreement with the official position of the United Methodist Church.) A covenant requires faithfulness whether you feel like it or not. Covenant means fidelity, intimate involvement, and commitment to each other. We are all creatures of infirmity, brokenness, and weakness, of flaws and failures. A covenantal pledge enables us to use our fragile flesh to create a mystical, spiritual unity. A strong commitment to the covenantal expression of sex would really create a sexual revolution in our country. The poet W. H. Auden said, "Any marriage, however prosaic, is more interesting than any romance, however passionate."
The third issue, money. The author of Hebrews dares to meddle and talk about money. Preaching about money is as popular as preaching against tobacco in Kentucky. But, money caused personal anguish, problems and grief as much in biblical times as it does now. Conflict over money, the handling of money, spending of money, and credit card debts is a major cause of divorce. Greed is an American national sin as the rich get richer. How many billions or millions does one person or family need? Money is a demon waiting to get its clutches into you. Money loves to dominate people, suck out their souls, and rule their priorities, values, and ethics.
The author of Hebrews challenges, 13:5, "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have." Jesus well knew the peril of possessions and warned fervently, Matthew 6:24, "You cannot love God and money." In other words, what is really important in life--love of God, adoration and respect of your children, joy of friends, doing something worthwhile for God and others, making the world a better place--is destroyed by greed. Love of money is incompatible with love of God. Love of money is also misplaced trust. Trust not in wealth which will crumble and disappear. Trust in God.
How do you keep your life free from love of money? How do you keep greed at bay? How do you control greed? How do you know when you have enough? How do you know you are not putting too much emphasis on the accumulation of wealth and things? The Bible has a very practical answer, a very practical solution. It's simple again. Are you ready? Tithe. Give 10% of what you have to do God's work through the church and charitable organizations. The tithe is an expression of stewardship. You are a good manager when you tithe. You are controlling greed when you tithe. You are trusting God when you tithe.
Therefore, if you are not tithing, are you in love with money? If you are not tithing, are you letting your money control you rather than you controlling your money? What percentage are you giving? 2%, 1% ? There are persons and families in our congregation who obviously tithe, some on very limited incomes. But, if what some of you give is 10% of your income, you are eligible for public assistance and food from the Food Closet.
Interpersonal relationships, sex, and money; live issues in biblical times, live issues today. Call it meddling if you like, but the biblical ethic has not been tried by enough of us. Try it: the Golden Rule, Covenantal sex, and the tithe.
© 1992 Douglas I. Norris